The oldest proofreader in town
4 April 2010 | Updated: 6 April 2010 9:14 am | By Corinne McPartland
Reg Frary is 90 years old. He has survived the Second World War, seen man land on the moon and watched the first-ever television broadcast.
But walking into Taylor Wessing’s City office dressed in a sharp navy blue suit and pink tie it’s hard to describe Frary - the firm’s only proofreader - as ’elderly’.
“I’m probably the oldest person working in the City,” he smiles. “But I like it here and I enjoy what I do. It keeps me going, so why not?”
Frary has been at Taylor Wessing for more than 20 years, after being headhunted for the role by a former member of the firm’s HR team.
She had worked with him in the past and knew his reputation for having a keen eye for detail and excellent use of the English language.
“It’s funny being headhunted long after you’ve retired,” Frary explains, “but I immediately liked the firm and have stayed so long because it has the atmosphere of a small family-run law firm, not a big corporation.”
Frary started his career at the age of 18 writing customer service letters for a water softener company after he had been told by his headmaster to stay on at school.
“At the time you could earn a lot of money as an errand boy, but my headmaster told us not to take any notice of our friends who were walking around with fancy clothes and lots of money,” he recalls. “He told us to stay on at school until we were 18, and I’m glad that I did.”
Frary took up an editor’s position at the British Standards Institution (BSI), where he meticulously checked documents for the correct use of English. He stayed at BSI until he retired at 65, but soon found he wanted another challenge.
“In those days you were out the door as soon as you hit 65. But I needed to keep my brain active and I saw an advertisement for a proofreader in the newspaper so I went for the job,” he explains.
And so he began working for the long defunct law firm Oppenheimers, but after its decline Frary decided to continue working as a proofreader. He had various jobs, including one at Speechly Bircham, and even enjoyed a stint at an advertising company.
“The advertising company was easy because they didn’t know the difference between a full stop and comma,” he laughs.
Now at Taylor Wessing, Frary is known as the ’master of spelling and grammar’ and anybody at the firm can go to him with any sort of document for checking.
“I like working with the trainees because they’re such wonderful, bright young people and I learn a lot from them, but they’ll often come to me with grammatical questions.
It’s something I’ve been seeing for years - not just at this firm,” he explains.
“It’s not their fault because they just haven’t been taught basic grammar at school, so I like to help them along and teach them myself.”
Remarking on Lynne Truss’s book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, Frary says: “Can you imagine it’s actually got to such a critical stage that there’s a best-selling book on how to use a comma and a full stop?”
Frary thinks there is too much reliance on computers and people have become lazy with the use of the English language. He is the only person in the firm not to have a computer, despite being offered one on numerous occasions.
“A computer can only check for a spelling mistake - it can’t read a sentence to make sure it’s been written in the correct way. I don’t need a computer,” he insists. “I have my brain and my red pen.”
Frary says he makes sure his brain is exercised by getting up for work each morning and making the journey to the office from his home in Richmond, which he shares with his cat, Timmy.
“I get up at 5am and have my porridge and then get to work for 7.30am - I’ve just started having Mondays off so that’s nice. But I like coming into work and the firm has said that it wants me to go on for as long as I can,” he explains.
Frary says he thinks his life has been carved out by a series of fortunate events. The first, he says, was being “told” that he had to join his church choir at the age of nine - a choir he is still a member of more than 80 years on.
“I began writing to various vicars across the country to ask them if I could join the chapel choir for the duration of my holiday,” he explains. “And from those encounters I began to write short stories about the amusing things that happened on my travels.”
At first Frary had the stories published in his church magazine, but was then offered a publishing deal after a friend suggested that he send off a collection of his written work to a publishing house.
And since the early 1960s Frary has had more than 10 books published, including Don’t Upset the Choir and Don’t Blame the Organist.
“Actually lawyers are very much like clergymen: they’re both terrible at writing,” jokes Frary.
So what does the future hold for Taylor Wessing’s much-loved character? “I’m going to keep eating my porridge every morning and coming into work to meet all these lovely people. Your feet go first when you get older,” he smiles, ’but I’ve still got my brain.”